Constitutional referendum was too democratic for opposition CHP

MARKAR ESAYAN
Published
Constitutional referendum was too democratic for opposition CHP

Experiencing harsh disputes among its members since the referendum day, the CHP is paying the price for its failure to integrate into the new system

The constitutional amendments approved in Turkey on April 16 marked an important difference from the previous 17 amendments. With 51.4 percent of the electorate voting "yes," Turkey has changed its government system to a presidential one. A highly inefficient system of chaos that is prone to bringing about antidemocratic results and leading to double-headedness and unity of powers has passed into history. In fact, though Turkey was supposedly governed through a parliamentary system, the reality was different. The parliamentary system had moved away from its roots and purpose due to coup constitutions.

I have written about the content of the amendments in great detail in my previous article here. So I will not repeat the same arguments. I conclude this section by saying that Turkey has made an important reform to achieve democratization.

REGARDING THE 2019 ELECTIONS

A "two-stage procedure" was chosen for the introduction into force of the amendments proposal. Three articles of the proposal entered into force after being published in the Official Gazette. Two high military courts, which are relics of a coup constitution and cause fragmentation in the judiciary, were abolished. These were the High Military Court of Appeals and the High Military Administrative Court.

Secondly, as a requirement for the presidential system in which the president will represent the executive branch, the ban on the president having formal ties to a political party was removed. As a result, current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has officially become a member of his former party again. On May 21, the AK Party will hold an extraordinary congress where Erdoğan is set to be reelected as chairman of the AK Party. In fact, that ban was on paper only and claimed to be a measure to ensure the impartiality of the office of the president, which was designed as a symbolic office.

First of all, with its extensive powers, the presidency was not a symbolic office and impartiality of the elected presidents could not usually be ensured. The way to ensure the impartiality of the president is not to force him to nominally severe ties with his former party. Indeed, the prime minister is under obligation to be impartial while retaining ties with his party, which was somehow viewed to entail no problem of conflict. Since the offices of the prime minister and president have become merged in the new system, this problem has naturally been amended.

Thirdly and lastly, another important reform is the election of seven of the 13 members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) by parliamentary vote. That process has also started and a joint committee, of which I am also a member, selected 21 candidates from among 83 applicants and referred them to the General Assembly of Parliament. Next week, the General Assembly will select seven candidates from among these 21 candidates.

On the other hand, the amendment introducing a presidential government system will be implemented in the next general election so that the harmonization of around 1,300 existing laws with the new system can be ensured. Apart from that, inefficient internal regulations of Parliament should be also changed. In the next six months, Parliament will try to pass these changes with a consensus. The next general elections will be held on Nov. 3, 2019. A smooth and orderly transition to the new system is thus the aim. With two and a half years remaining, the next general elections are of historic importance as the new system will be implemented for the first time.

CHP'S OPPOSITION PROBLEM

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which had opposed the constitutional amendments from the beginning by going beyond the limits of democracy, ran into contradiction. On the one hand, it tries to present the result of the April 16 referendum as "illegitimate" and on the other hand it strives to take a stand before the next elections. In this sense, the CHP is having a crisis right now.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu faced his eighth election defeat after taking office. Nowadays, influential figures like the former CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal question this failure and also made successive public statements about what kind of candidate to nominate in the 2019 elections. It is said that there are five separate cliques within the CHP. Actually, the CHP's rejectionist stance against this historic amendment package did not begin after it had lost the election. Sadly, even when the proposal was under discussion, Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu and all prominent CHP figures said they would never allow this amendment. Of course, they are entitled to express their disapproval. But they took a non-political stance about blocking the amendment. For example, Kılıçdaroğlu said several times, "You cannot bring a presidential system without bloodshed." He also remarked that "Even if 98 percent said 'yes,' we would not accept the result." He has always tacitly encouraged citizens to resort to street protests. When a CHP group deputy chairman remarked that "votes will be weighed, not counted" in the referendum, he meant that even if outnumbered by 'yes' votes, 'no' votes will outweigh the 'yes.' In other words, 'no' voters are better citizens and hence should get their way.

Naturally, that stance continued during the committee and General Assembly stages of the discussion of the amendment proposal. The goal was to keep the tension high and spread it to the streets. However, the process has proceeded in accordance with democratic precedents and it was impossible to think of another way. The outcome would be determined first by Parliament and later by the people. Everyone was expected to respect the result.

In short, the CHP has not altered its stance after the "yes" vote prevailed in the referendum. The party decided on it from the start and has remained stuck to this decision. But the people made their own decision. There was no reason to take matters to the streets and people have not resorted to that. So, the CHP suffers from the consequences of its rejectionist stance.

According to our laws, ballot envelopes are printed in required numbers and stamped by provincial and district election boards. Finally, they are sealed by ballot box committees for the last time. There are representatives of every political party and a chairperson in ballot box committees. Ballot papers are delivered in pre-specified numbers and bear a watermark to prevent forgery. As it was observed, while voting was still going on, some envelopes lacked the official stamp, and the Supreme Election Board (YSK) announced that the mistakes of ballot box committees in certain locations should not obstruct the citizens' right to vote and that it would accept unsealed ballot papers.

Similar situations occurred during the previous eight elections and the same rule was applied then. The YSK made that decision for a valid reason while the voting was going on, ballot counting did not begin yet, and unsealed envelopes were found in certain locations only. The CHP's stance, which was meant to "cast doubt" on the referendum, emerged when it was understood that the 'no' votes lost. The YSK rejected on valid grounds the CHP's petition to annul the referendum result and confirmed the outcome. And now, the CHP vacillates between keeping the claims of "fraud" alive while stirring tension on the streets and getting ready for the Nov. 3, 2019 elections.

CHP deputy head and spokesperson Selin Sayek Böke resigned from her posts, criticizing Kılıçdaroğlu for not being firm enough. Others within the party claim that the CHP cannot compete in the 2019 elections with Kılıçdaroğlu at the helm. But Kılıçdaroğlu seems to have control over the party's management and organization. The fact that no other resignation came after Böke's is seen as proof of that. However, the CHP could have played an active role during both the preparation phase of the amendment proposal and during the HSYK selection process and adoption of adjustment laws after the approval of proposal. Both Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, another backer of the proposal, have called the CHP to participate in the process.

For it was not a matter of political competition but it stemmed from a need to improve the existing government system that even the CHP and Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) admit to being ineffective. The CHP will have to nominate a candidate in 2019 in accordance with an amendment that it insists is "dubious." On the other hand, CHP voters are unhappy. They cannot decide which statements of the party to believe in, nor have they a respectable candidate or a political project before them that can arouse hope and excitement.

It seems that the CHP will enter the 2019 elections, for the sake of consistency, with a promise to reverse the amendments approved in the April 16 referendum. Put differently, the CHP's prospective candidate under the new system promises, "I will change this system if I am elected." But would citizens agree to an executive, going against what they directly elected with as much as 50 percent +1 vote, emerging from within Parliament, like in the past, with a much smaller majority (or in the case of a coalition, a failure to produce it)? The CHP has run into such contradictions because of the eclectic strategies it clings to with the purpose of controlling the state apparatus at any cost, ignoring people's demands. If they had not spent the last 15 years trying to devise ways to overthrow Erdoğan, but had pursued instead a policy prioritizing people, they would have probably achieved their goals through much more democratic and legitimate methods. At least they would have been in a much more active position. The new system places people's will directly at the center of politics. The CHP is accustomed to operating with the bureaucracy, not with the people. Its fury with the new system stems from that.

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